Writing a book is something that takes time, money, and effort, but the end result makes it all worth it. You’ve probably had moments where you’ve just stared at your screen or banged your head against your desk, searching for ideas that wouldn’t come. You’ve probably had days where you didn’t feel good enough and days where the words flowed easily. You’ve probably even had days where you’ve reread your work, yelled “it sucks!” and nearly thrown your notebook or computer across the room. All of those things make you a writer. Don’t give up.
If you’ve gotten this far, congratulations! You’ve gone through the gruelling process of planning, writing, and editing your book, and are coming up to the final stretch in publishing: the technical editing. These are the “nuts and bolts” so to speak, of your writing. Technical editing comes in the forms of line editing and copyediting. This is where spelling, grammar, punctuation, and consistency come into play. Before now, those things didn’t matter. Yes, you can make sure that your sentences work and that words are spelt correctly while writing the book, but up until this point, that process is considered “unfinished”. Here is where your editors come into play.
In this article, I will speak specifically about copyediting, with a bit of information about line editing thrown in.
What is Line Editing?
Line editing is by far the most in-depth of the technical editing process, as it not only looks at grammar; it looks at syntax and sentence structure. [For more information about line editing, click here.] The editor will read through your manuscript in detail, line by line, to ensure that your style remains consistent, your word choice doesn’t hinder your message, and your tone is honed to perfection.
What is Copyediting?
Copyediting is the thing that most people envision when “editing” comes up. This editing has nothing to do with the actual content of your book, but rather the words themselves. Three content editors will look at your book and each one will give you different suggestions about how to improve it, while three copyeditors will (if they are all of similar experience and training) give you exactly the same suggestions. [To learn more about copyediting, click here.]
Why You Should Hire a Technical Editor
If anything, this is the main type of editor that you should hire. Writers on a budget can get by without hiring a professional content editor if they have many, many wonderful beta readers who give them feedback about the quality of their book, but only someone who has been specifically trained in copyediting can fix those almost unseen errors in writing.
Sure, you can go over it yourself; you can ask friends and readers to point out mistakes that they see; you could even ask a schoolteacher or other person with advanced English skills to check the book for you. However, those with professional training will know what the story needs. Are you using the correct dictionary—not only for spelling but for punctuation and style as well? Is your use of punctuation consistent? Are there facts that need to be checked for accuracy?
Beyond that, a fresh set of eyes on your work can never hurt.
How the Editing Process Works
At this point, you’ve probably gone through the back-and-forth process with other editors. You’re an old hand at this by now. You know that you send your most recent document out to the editor and wait for them to get back to you. (Some people send work to their editor one chapter at a time so that they can make corrections and/or work on it simultaneously.) But before that, how can you make your draft as ready as possible for your editor?
This is something that you might’ve heard of before, but in case you haven’t, it means that you’re editing yourself. No, this doesn’t refer to when you’re writing the draft and making changes. It doesn’t even refer to when you’re rewriting. Self-editing occurs when you read through your manuscript with the sole purpose of editing it—of finding those spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. [For an article about getting the most out of self-editing, click here.]
You may ask why you should have to do this if you’re going to hire an editor for it. Truth is, you don’t have to, but I heavily advise it! This may be common sense, but the fewer errors in your document, the fewer errors the editor will have to catch. That means that there will be fewer errors that they miss. If you have a spelling error or two in every sentence and punctuation errors piled to the sky, the editor—no matter how skilled they are—will get tired. They are more likely to miss things.
The First Step—The Editing Sample
The editing sample refers to a small sample of your work, typically 1000 words long, which you send to the editor so they may edit. This is very important because it not only shows the editor what they have to work with, it gives them vital information about how much they need to charge, and it also lets you as the author know how they work. Are you a good fit for your editor and are they a good fit for you?
Most of the time, the sample is free, so for a 50,000-word novel, you send the first 1000, they edit for free, and you hire them. From there, you send them the entire 50,000 and they’ll edit again.
*Pro-tip: make the editing changes that they’ve suggested from the sample, so they don’t need to re-suggest them. Remember, once you hire them, you are paying for them to edit the entire thing—if you make those changes, they may even catch an error they missed the first time around!
The Process—Back and Forth
For writing, you’re probably using a word processor like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Scrivener. I’m most familiar with Word (and it’s also the most common), so I’ll be talking about that.
When working in Word, editors will use Track Changes because they show the author what changes the editor is suggesting. This is under the Review tab of the menu. The author can then Accept or Reject these changes as they like. For the sake of consistency, the editor will do all editing this way [see developmental editing here].
For changes that the editor might want to explain more in-depth, or notes that they’d like to give directly to the author about a certain part of the story (such as a link for research), the editor will use Comments, also found under the Review tab.
Google Docs (and other word processors, I’m sure) also has this function, and both the author and the editor (and the beta readers) can write, reply, and resolve comments. In Google Docs, one can be a Viewer (able to read but unable to affect the text), a Suggester (able to suggest changes, similar to Track Changes), or an Editor (changes the document directly by deleting and inserting).
*Note: Editors may be uncomfortable using Google Docs because the author always has full access to the document, even while editing is in progress. They may worry about not receiving their payment at the end from authors who already have the work and don’t want to pay for it. Be open, honest, and understanding with your editor. This is their livelihood, and unfortunately, there are untrustworthy authors out there.
Where to Find a Copyeditor
Seeing as you’ve already found your content editors, you must already know some good places to find people, so this part will be brief. Typically, you’ll find websites and/or groups online or on Facebook for line editing and copyediting specifically. Third-party websites like Reedsy and Fiverr are some great places to find newer (and more cost-friendly) editors.
Pricing can be really low or really high, and it all depends on what kind of editing you’re looking for (as well as the genre of your novel). The different services have different average rates, and whether the work is good quality or bad quality, you typically get what you pay for. Editors who don’t have as many years of experience will also be more affordable to authors, as long as you understand that they aren’t pros who’ve been in the business for 10, 20, or 30 years—who can charge a whole lot more for their services.
As expected, copyediting is one of the lower-costing services, as it doesn’t require as much thought into changes as content editing would. It is fairly straightforward, but it is also time-consuming and very technical. It still takes effort.
For a 50,000-word novel, you’ll probably be looking at $900 to $1250 for copyediting and/or about $2000 for line editing. But editing isn’t always that expensive. Consecutive drafts—when your editor is rereading your manuscript after revisions—are half price, so while the first draft might be $900, the second draft would be $450. Of course, you don’t usually go through as many drafts with copyediting as you do with content editing. A once-over is often all you need from a copyeditor—unless you have some major issues with grammar.
Once you’ve gone through the sample edit and have decided that you’re a good fit, an editor will send over a project contract for you to sign. The basic layout is this: the name and details of the project, the contact information of both parties, what work is being done and for how much, and non-disclosure agreements.
For more detail, an editing contract begins with the contact information of both parties. Names, emails and/or phone numbers, and addresses. You’ll lay out the time frame as well: when the project starts, when it ends, how long to typically expect for the work to be done.
Then comes the Statement of Work. This is the project name, word count, genre, etc. All that fun stuff. It’s also what type of editing you’re getting and what that editing entails. It explains in detail what the editor is going to do with your project and what they are not responsible for. This, for a copyeditor, would say that they aren’t responsible for the content of the writing, whether scenes work, whether the story flows correctly, or even if it’s a compelling story. For a content editor, it would say that they are not responsible for fixing spelling errors or other technical issues. The Statement of Work will also discuss deadlines, if there will be any meetings, and what delivery time will be like.
There’s another section for the fees/rates, and then the bottom portion of the contract will be about the confidentiality of the project and what rights each of the parties possess in the editor/author relationship. And finally, the last page will be the signature page.
Make sure to read your editing contract carefully! Typically, they’ll be fine, but it’s always worth it to do your due diligence. Plus, it will help you fully understand what you’re getting and for what price.
How to Set Up Your Document for a Copyeditor
Editors typically get a lot of documents, so you want to make sure they know which one is yours. They all have their own systems of naming, so don’t worry if they change what your document is called, but make sure that the title is clear when you send it to them.
*Pro tip: Don’t send a messy document!
The easier it is for an editor to read your work, the easier it will be for them to edit. If you’re using headers or footers, page numbers are always welcome, and make sure your name and email address are listed.
That being said, everyone is different, so don’t be alarmed if your editor has a different way of being organized than you. The best way is to find a midway point, or maybe even allow your editor to do their thing if you don’t have a preference. Again, as a professional, they’ve been doing this for a while, and they’ve created a system that works.
As mentioned above, self-editing ahead of time is highly recommended, and feel free to send your editor an additional list of character names and terms that you’ve invented so they know how to correct misspellings of those words. Otherwise, it is standard copyeditor practice to assume that the first instance of a name is correct, so if a character’s name is “James Braun”, but the first spelling is “James Brawn”, they will likely correct every instance to “James Brawn”. (If it’s only James Brawn once, they most likely will ask for clarification.)
How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship with Your Copyeditor
You probably already have a few editors that you work with. Maintaining contact with a copyeditor is, dare I say, not as crucial as with a content editor. This is only because it is less of a discussion about what to change to make the book better, and more of the copyeditor letting you know what mistakes need to be fixed. That being said, it’s still important to maintain healthy relationships with all editors so as to get the best work possible from them and to have someone to go to for future projects—someone you already know you work well with.
For this project, as I said, make sure to give them what they need. A copyeditor will typically only need the document, as they will often create a style sheet with a list of words for you themselves. Still, if you already have a list of names and terms, it’s best to provide that as a separate document (rather than at the beginning or end of the manuscript) so they can have both open at the same time without having to scroll back and forth.
Finishing a Project with an Editor
With a copyeditor, it’s common for them to only go over your manuscript once. They are the final checker, after all, so unless you’ve made significant changes to sections, or have rewritten full sentences to fix grammar, you don’t need to send it to them again. From here, the contract has been fulfilled and payment is due for their services.
If you’re writing more books or even thinking of writing more books, you may want to retain this copyeditor. You like their work, so why wouldn’t you? The best way to approach this is to simply ask them if they’d be willing to work with you again in the future. If you already have a project in the works, give them a bit of detail (if they ask) and give them a potential timeline. It’s also alright if you don’t have a timeline yet.
However, remember that one successful project does not guarantee that they will work with you again. They have every right to refuse a project, whether they have a busy waiting list, the new project doesn’t appeal to them, or otherwise.
Other than that, congratulations on writing a book! That’s a difficult task, and I commend you for getting this far! Good luck in future endeavours and keep writing every day!
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